Yolanda Clark thought she had a good sense of the community that funnels students into .
But then she started driving around.
"It was an eye-opener for me when I did a tour, and saw how vast it was," she said.
Clark is still getting to know the students, teachers and parents at Arundel Middle, as she enters the second week as the new principal of the school. She came a short trip east after serving as assistant principal, then interim principal at Meade High last year.
Clark's predecessor, Shawn Ashworth, is now in an administrative role at the county schools main office, which has allowed for an easy transition. But Clark said she is still trying to get a feel for the school, and hopes to meet more parents during upcoming "Talk-a-Latte" sessions and other events including Back to School Night on Sept. 13.
“It takes a while to figure out what the culture is and the nitty-gritty of how they do things,” Clark said. “They just really are about community. It’s definitely clear the parents are supportive. I haven’t heard much of anything negative. The parents have high expectations of the students, and I think that’s awesome.”
Clark is a graduate of the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, and also has advanced degrees from Bowie State University and McDaniel College.
She takes over a school with nearly 900 students. Last year, Arundel Middle hit all of its "Annual Measurable Objectives" (AMO) for academic performance. It represented an improvement over the previous year, when it fell shy of adequate yearly progress goals in some categories.
Leonard-Clark said it's healthy to celebrate successes, but that she still plans to set high goals. In her prior work with the county schools, she worked at Annapolis High School on a college-readiness program, and also taught English at Southern High School.
"I am not one to sit on the fact that we just made AMO," she said. "The superintendent has very high expectations of what he wants his schools to be like. I am right on board with that. We’re definitely focused on increasing the rigor in our classrooms.”
Last year, Arundel Middle held designed to address achievement gaps among African-American boys. It was criticized by some parents for appearing too racially exclusive. Clark said she hasn't decided whether to bring the program back, but that the school staff is examining a wide range of strategies to ensure all students are performing well.
"It’s not my plan to exclude anyone," she said. "I’m about every student in every classroom everyday. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t target groups we need to support.”
She said one key will be offering teachers access to research and other tools to address specific problems in a variety of ways.
"The more our teachers are aware of the different kids of strategies to deal with all populations of students, the better off they’ll be able to try something and say, ‘Ok, that didn’t work, but I have another strategy I can try,’” Clark said.
Arundel Middle School will hold its Back-to-School Night on Sept. 13.